Counter-Marketing Thinspiration: Killer Media Cues


Feb. 12, 2009 Media literacy rule number one: Watch for extreme headlines that command attention. I could’ve gone with ‘Fatal Attraction’ or any other number of sensationalist eyecatchers. As you can surmise, this is about the role of media feeding the pop culture zeitgeist like the Venus Flytrap plant in the Little Shop of Horrors, singing, “Feeeeeeed me.”

Valentine’s Day is upon us, and we all know the best give we can ever receive is to love ourselves. But with a $60 billion industry in diet and weight loss products hammering  ‘not good enough’ cues into girls AND boys in full tilt surround sound, it’s not easy to ‘feel the love.’

I’ve been working on a synopsis of our counter-marketing tactics for Shaping Youth’s body image expert Dr. Robyn Silverman, who has a new book coming out from a major publisher based on her wealth of body image experience, so as you might guess, my input is swirling around media and marketing analysis on the youth behavioral front…and she (ok, we!) would like YOUR feedback and experiences.

How have unrealistic body ideals landed on youth in YOUR world? How have media messages helped fuel it? Moreover, what ideas work best to reverse toxic trends to turn this tanker around without spillage?

If you watch the 5-minute video excerpt of Dr. Jean Kilbourne’s Slim Hopes, below, you’ll get a snapshot of the pervasiveness and toxicity of this problem, as youth aspire to unattainable body image ideals (like the Evolution of PhotoShop ‘creature features’ we’ve written about so often).

We’d like to look at some inspiring SOLUTIONS to combat this battle for the hearts and minds of our youth…and crowdsource some ‘best practices.’

Are you game?

magali-claireFor starters, we turn to career fashion model Magali Amadei and author Claire Mysko, of Girls Inc.’s You’re Amazing (which was just selected as an Amelia Bloomer list pick for the American Library Association’s books empowering girls) to share their outreach programs they deliver at high schools, colleges, and conferences nationwide.

Like Courtney Macavinta’s successful Respect Rx Rallies and Girls For a Change outreach, these co-founders of Inside Beauty, convey a “been there done that” pairing that packs a punch.

And like Shaping Youth’s own strategy, this powerhouse team goes Inside Beauty to turn it inside out. (e.g. Claire served as Director of the American Anorexia Bulimia Association and recovered from the disease itself, and Magali has been on just about every major fashion magazine worldwide)

This is one of our many examples at Shaping Youth of how we use REAL life, REAL experiences, and REAL people to lift the veil on the damage done, and bring insights to youth with firsthand, personal experience.

How is this scalable?

Using the internet as a collective knowledge pool, you can tap into organizations and resource lists in your own region to spokespeople in your OWN community who can RESPONSIBLY tackle these issues.

neda-logoNote the emphasis on the accountability factor, with that word ‘responsibly.’ Take it very, very seriously…

Anyone who writes about these topics (bloggers, moms, orgs, mainstream press, nonprofits like me!) should check out the Tips for Responsible Media Coverage from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) site, as we all know there’s a complex interplay of biological, psychological and social forces at work, which CANNOT be simplified to a blame game of media and marketing’s role.

NEDA nails it by summing:

“Eating disorders, like suicide or terrorism, are issues that MUST be covered in a careful and responsible manner in order to avoid inadvertently glamorizing the illnesses or promoting experimentation with these life-threatening behaviors.”

bodysnarkingNeedless to say, I’m not about to launch a counter-marketing campaign about “muffin tops, toothpick chicks” or other bodysnarking and cyberbullying “media trends” without thoroughly vetting it with these experts and others…

Claire Mysko has a great interview on Fox here about youth forms of bodysnarking in social media with photo tags and commentary and I can attest to seeing this phenom on the teen virtual stage with some immature kids turning digicams into lethal weapons on the snarkfest front.

To protect yourself from point and shoot opportunists of any age, check out Nick O’Neill’s helpful article, 10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know. (then apply that thinking to MySpace, Flickr, Photobucket and beyond!)

That said, I still DO believe the media ‘problem’ can also be part of the ‘solution’ if we’re careful about flipping the media message from the inside out sans hypocrisy. (which is a tough one when industry gets involved, sigh)

feedmeWe’re exploring this right now, and will be leaking out some of our counter-marketing tactics one by one, but we’re in ‘testing and vetting’ phase on some of the body image work and want to ensure we don’t misfire.

If you’re interested in this topic of media reform and body image valuation, it’s a great time to visit their site, 5 Resolutions to Transform the Fashion & Beauty Industries to learn more.

Their Feed Me! contest is in full swing, where you can enter to win a free copy of the new book Feed Me! Writers Dish About Food, Eating, Weight, and Body Image by Harriet Brown, a noteworthy compilation of professional essays including one from Magali herself. (sample reviews at the end, and yes, that’s yours truly in the contest queue, I read the excerpt!)

5 Resolutions is a wealth of information and resources on this ‘thinspiration’ topic alone, and was one of Shaping Youth’s picks for our All Things Girl series. (see this link laden series recap and the  7 Sensational blogs post)

Their Inside Beauty site details how their presentations combine personal stories with real examples of photo retouching (like when they turned Magali’s bust from B to D for a magazine cover, whammo!) to cut through the cultural clutter and critically think about the surround sound messages being served about beauty.

As for other media literacy deconstruction, and a slew of teaching tools to target dieting and weight loss ads specifically?

mlcI’ll point you to our sidebar at right for my favorites, including Mind on the Media, Media Watch and my personal pick for wide-ranging specificity by topic, Media Literacy Clearinghouse by colleague Frank Baker. He’s a national Leaders in Learning honoree with a career that spans decades of dedication, as he adjusts to keep in step with the plethora of ever-changing media platforms. Frank dissects this specific issue with a slew of pertinent news feeds and downloads that would make any edublogger grin.


Also, our friends from the newly redesigned Media Education Lab site at Temple University have useful video clips and tips to DEFINE various forms of media as well as the experience kids are having within it…

More on that via the new NAMLE site. (NAMLE=National Association for Media Literacy Educators; used to be called AMLA—sheesh, they need a branding person for a usable acronym!) Media literacy pioneer Renee Hobbs (blog here) and current NAMLE  President Sherri Hope Culver are wrapping up their ‘call for presenter abstracts’ Feb. 15, 2009 for their summer 2009 conference, which looks worthy too…

I hope they add this topic of body image to the platform of damaging public health issues that need serious attention in the media sphere.

find-beautyTomorrow I’ll post a ‘love yourself’ Valentine and open letter from young adult author and readergirlz co-founder Justina Chen, who’s engaging kids in a :90 YouTube ‘Find Beauty video challenge in the spirit of the BlogHer ‘Letter to my Body’ meme.

Justina’s new book, North of Beautiful (teen book review here) follows her other two YA lit picks that poignantly tap into girls’ psyches with realism through prose, painting a vivid landscape on the teen canvas of being a girl in today…

For more body positive tips, counter-marketing ideas and ways to inoculate kids with healthier critical thinking skills (yup, they’re pretty thin right now, pun intended) check out (and their blog and workshops) Just also has a new health-curricula in the works among their many other media literacy outreach programs…

anybodyAND…Here’s a new-to-me (but maybe not to you) fascinating find selected for preservation by the British Library, called founded back in 2003. (but off my newbie radar, I guess!–thank Inside Beauty for that one!)

While  Shaping Youth’s nonprofit consortium is  eager to use the power of media for positive change in various aspects of media and marketing, is very ‘body image specific’ with women and men from psychotherapy, media, fashion, law, art, research and academia…I’d love to ‘compare notes’ across the pond about cultural attitudes and distortions wreaking havoc on the minds and bodies of the next generation…

Now, I’d like to hear feedback from YOU about the level of body image toxicity in YOUR own regional environs…

If it’s NOT an issue in your world, I’d like to hear that too!

What’s coming out of kids’ mouths in your home, school, social media sites or peer group?

packaging-girlhood.jpgLeave a sentence below with your comment (appx. age/region for context too) and we’ll give away a hardback copy of Packaging Girlhood Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers Schemes in a drawing of names for those  leaving their thoughts and commentary on March 1, 2009. We did this for Tracee’s recent launch at The Girl Revolution and it was a big hit!

I might even pull together a “survey monkey” query, to get a feel for some of your main priorities in the youth sphere…but for now, could you ‘tell your body image story’ here at “”

If you leave a comment on her research site, AND here at Shaping Youth I’ll enter your name twice for the book! (increase your chances!) AND…if you enter the Feed Me contest on Claire’s blog TOO, I’ll enter it three times! So tell Dr. Robyn your body image story…and tell ME:

What needs ‘counter-marketed’ the most?

What “keeps you awake at night” in media messaging to youth?

Sound off and you might win a hardback edition of Packaging Girlhood!!!!

C’mon readers…”Feeeeeeeeed me.”

Slim Hopes Video Clip of Dr. Jean Kilbourne’s Film:

Note: Shaping Youth will be screening the full version of Slim Hopes for parent/teen education (thanks to the screening rights purchased from Media Education Foundation at the CCFC conference) so watch for Q&A panels and special FREE showings if you’re in the S.F. Bay Area! (see film icon at right)

Here are a few reviews for the brand new book release, Feed Me! Don’t forget to enter their contest to win it on the 5 Resolutions site!

Hurry! They’ll announce the winner on Feb. 17, 2009! (you’ve got ’til March 1st for mine)

“Amazing . . . will break your heart even as it makes you cackle with laughter, leading you into a more joyful and healthy relationship with your body.”
–Mary Pipher, Ph.D., author of Reviving Ophelia

“For every woman who has ever (a) hated her body, (b) stepped on a scale more than once a day, (c) cried in a dressing room, or (d) all of the above, a funny and heartbreaking collection of essays about the tyranny of thinness. Though you could buy roughly four Entenmann’s cakes for the cover price, this book could actually fill you up.”
–Betsy Lerner, author of Food and Loathing

“These fascinating stories reveal the complexity of eating: the joy and misery, the acceptance and rejection, the nurturing and deprivation, the connection and isolation.”
–Ellyn Satter, author of Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family

“These diverse tales of humiliation, survival, and acceptance of the most personal and shameful of body dramas are palatable and poignant. . . . I devoured the book!”
Nancy Redd, author of Body Drama

Related Resources

The Rise of Bodysnarking (Wall Street Journal May ’08)

Girls Inc. Presents You’re Amazing (Amazon/blog w/related resources)

From Inside Beauty: Nancy Gruver’s cool new animated promo of New Moon Girl Magazine and resource list:

For Kids, Tweens and Teens
Young people have the power to transform the future. Education, prevention, and advocacy aren’t just for adults!

Girls Inc.

PBS Kids: It’s My Life

PBS Kids: Don’t Buy It!

Kids Health

Smart Girl

Respect Rx



  1. I’ve started receiving stories yesterday on including a heartbreaking one of a girl who graduated at the top of her class, is at a top college in the northeast. She tells of a time in eighth grade when a boy called her “shamu” and how “No matter how many times my mother tells me I’m beautiful, I’ll never forget being Shamu.” My heart breaks when I hear these stories. I’d be curious how parents think such instances should be handled, since, in this case and in countless others, the damage is done as soon as the insult (even old fashioned bodysnarking bc before computers) leaves the other person’s mouth.

    Thanks to all of you who have already told your story– and thanks in advance to those who are in the process of telling it. The only way we’re all going to learn what to do and what not to do is by opening the dialogue and discussing the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful.

    Thanks, Amy. You’re a rock star.

    Dr. Robyn

    Dr Robyn Silverman’s last blog post..Why all the hype over Mary Kate Olsen?

  2. I’ll be adding mine soon…and yes, there are plenty. Most poignant and topical, was the name Giraffe (I grew tall early) which later became an endearment I’d use as a gentle, peaceful, regal, stately symbol of who I am inside, even when my exterior is fighting windmills and kicking tail.

    It’s topical because a zoo in Buffalo just named a giraffe after Malia Obama; if I had words for her right now they’d be those above…

    I SO fear for those two darling girls, and what they’ll be put through as they navigate puberty. People don’t even see why the first lady was ‘so upset’ about the commercialization of the dolls to begin with…sheesh. Can’t they comprehend that any likeness or depiction would feel very personal and violating to a child?

    Just imagine how threatening it would feel if the doll were damaged (inadvertently or not) if you were that age seeing your likeness altered (I still can’t believe they put breasts on a beanie baby, and denied the whole fiasco. Shame on TyInc., renamed or not. Bleh.)

    Amy Jussel’s last blog post..How Now, Green Cow?! sMOOch! Valentine’s Day e-Cause Cards

  3. A little offtopic reply, Im using the new google chrome browser, but it looks like your website is not displaying correctly… Just to let you know. Thanks.

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